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Arteta's side expose Villa's defensive system
Partey scores first Arsenal goal with glancing header
Smith Rowe seals victory on the end of excellent move
As they say on the terraces, they were always going to have a party when Thomas Partey scored a goal. It had taken 40 matches and 49 shots for Arsenal’s star midfielder to find the net but when the moment finally arrived, it marked the start of a Friday night to remember for Mikel Arteta and the fans of this club.
Composure in midfield, control in defence and menace in attack: Arteta could not have asked for more from his players here, aside perhaps from a clean sheet.
The nature of Arsenal’s performance rubbished the notion that Aston Villa might be worthy of replacing them in the upper echelons of the English game, and it felt symbolic when the exceptional Emile Smith Rowe struck the third goal for the home side.
Villa had dared to make two bids for Smith Rowe this summer, both of which were laughed off by Arsenal, and the visitors could not get close to the 21-year-old on the pitch either.
This was another statement performance by the youngster, who is surely on the verge of an England call-up, and it came on the day he declared that he would love to stay at Arsenal “forever”.
Smith Rowe scored one and assisted one for Arsenal, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang striking the other on the rebound after Emiliano Martinez had saved his first-half penalty.
All over the pitch Arsenal were in control, from Partey in midfield to Ben White in defence and Smith Rowe in attack, and Villa offered little to suggest they are capable of reaching these levels themselves.
Dean Smith’s side appeared to be playing a different, slower game in the first half, when they could not compete with Arsenal’s energy and intensity. At half-time the shot count read 14 to zero, and only Jacob Ramsey’s late strike brought any light on a dark night for Villa’s head coach.
Smith will know as well as anyone that this was a long way from being the sort of showing that his bosses are expecting. Emiliano Buendia and Danny Ings were largely anonymous up front, and the defenders were routinely exposed by the movement and speed of Arsenal’s running.
Perhaps it is a consequence of the inexperience in their ranks, but Arsenal remain a group of players who swing dramatically from highs to lows.
On Monday night they were poor against Crystal Palace, requiring a desperate late equaliser, but here it all seemed to flow as Arteta would have liked, just as it had in their thrilling victory against Tottenham Hotspur earlier this season.
“We attacked them really aggressively, we won every duel,” said Arteta. “We were creative, a threat. I’m proud of the team, they played really well. This is how we have to play. This is when we are good, when we play with real desire, real commitment and have clear ideas of how to attack.”
Arsenal forced Villa back at first and kept them pinned there until half-time. There was snap to the home side’s play, a vigour that has not always been evident this season.
The role of Alexandre Lacazette was crucial in that, with the Frenchman providing a touch of devil and nastiness on his first league start of the season. He flew into tackles, started arguments and generally snarled around the pitch, making a nuisance of himself from the off.
As for Partey, it had felt like he was simply never going to score for the club. In recent weeks his efforts have become increasingly wild but he struck the bar from close range here before heading Smith Rowe’s corner inside the far post.
He almost scored a second shortly afterwards, nodding over from Bukayo Saka’s corner, as Villa seemed perplexed by the mere sight of Arsenal’s holding midfielder in their area.
Lacazette’s creativity was a constant problem for Villa and it was he who won the penalty, via a VAR review, after nicking the ball ahead of Matt Targett just before half-time.
Up against his former team-mate Martinez, Aubameyang was denied at first but reacted quickest to convert the rebound.
Before the hour mark Arsenal were in again, with Aubameyang flicking the ball into the path of Smith Rowe. His effort struck the leg of Tyrone Mings before rolling in for the third.
The goal ended the match as a contest, even if there was time for Ramsey to curl home a fine finish from range.
It was barely even a consolation for Villa. In truth, it was probably more than they deserved.
As it happened
Big win for Arsenal and a chastening defeat for Villa who look tactically muddled and generally confused. They've spent a lot of the Grealish windfall but are still a long way off making up for his absence. Arsenal move up to ninth, Villa drop to 13th.
Sam Dean's match report will be here imminently.
90+4 min Arsenal 3 Villa 1
Bailey whips it with his left but it whistles over the bar.
90+3 min Arsenal 3 Villa 1
Tavares brings down Bailey 20 yards out, right of centre. A minute to go.
90+1 min Arsenal 3 Villa 1
The first of four minutes of stoppage time ends with Martinelli coming on for the limping Aubameyang, who takes his time.
90 min Arsenal 3 Villa 1
The ball breaks to Ramsey in the box when Luiz's cross is headed back across from the left and Thomas, who was going to hoover it up, slipped. But he drags it wide of the left post.
89 min Arsenal 3 Villa 1
Tavares eases the late pressure with a run down the left but when he's tackled and the ball goes out for a throw he's penalised for a foul throw for not taking the ball back behind his head.
87 min Arsenal 3 Villa 1
Gabriel slides in to tackle McGinn hard outside the box then Odegaard does the same to Bailey.
85 min Arsenal 3 Villa 1
Big chance for a Villa second from a long throw that Gabriel lets bounce as he tries to deal with Mings but Watkins steals in and ... misses the ball entirely. Should have been a tap-in.
83 min Arsenal 3 Villa 1
Great finish after Bailey cut across the 18-yard line from the left. Thomas missed his tackle and when he got to the D it looked as if he was going to wrap his left foot around a shot but instead Ramsey stole in and bent the perfect right-foot shot into the top right.
Arsenal 3-1 Villa (Ramsey)
79 min Arsenal 3 Villa 0
Douglas Luiz hangs on to Saka's arm as the Arsenal winger cut inside and edged ahead. Free-kick, 22 yards out, parallel with the right edge of the box. Odegaard takes and whips it down Ramsdale's throat.
77 min Arsenal 3 Villa 0
Villa free-kick 35 yards out for a nibble at Ramsey. When the cross eventually comes in White back-heads it out for a corner just as Mings thought he was going to bury it at the left post.
Ings is substituted and canned off the field by Arsenal fans. On comes El Ghazi.
75 min Arsenal 3 Villa 0
Quick, bright pass from Odegaard into Aubameyang's feet by the penalty spot caught the captain by surprise and he couldn't sort out his feet to shoot.
Arsenal fans are serenading Martinez with 'Aaron Ramsdale, he's better than you.'
73 min Arsenal 3 Villa 0
Maitland-Niles replaces the excellent Lokong after the corner comes to naught.
71 min Arsenal 3 Villa 0
Martinez batters away a Thierry Henry special from Aubameyang cutting in on his right from the left to aim for the top right corner. Tavares mounts the second phase of the attack by skinning Cash and whipping over a cross that is sent behind for a corner.
68 min Arsenal 3 Villa 0
He's not the only Villa player to be in a snit - Ings has been arguing with the referee and his assistants for most of the half.
67 min Arsenal 3 Villa 0
Jacob Ramsey comes on for Emiliano Buendia who looks vexed and waves away the proferred tracksuit top.
66 min Arsenal 3 Villa 0
Lacazette will have to go off. He has a problem with his left calf. Aubameyang is booked for I know not what.
Odegaard replaces Lacazette.
64 min Arsenal 3 Villa 0
Good save from Ramsdale from Buendia's diagonal shot as he cut in from the left after Targett's pass.
62 min Arsenal 3 Villa 0
Gabriel, Lokonga and Tavares smother Bailey like wasps around treacle. These are the signs that will make Arteta's heart sing.
60 min Arsenal 3 Villa 0
Targett scythes down Saka on halfway as the Arsenal midfielder threatened to bomb off upfield. Yellow card, Villa's fourth of the night.
59 min Arsenal 3 Villa 0
That's one way to kill Villa's revival vibe.
56 min Arsenal 3 Villa 0
Smith Rowe picks off McGinn's pass 10 yards outside his own area, lays it off to Tavares who pings it to Aubameyang to the left of the centre-circle. Smith Rowe has got on his bike and Aubameyang hits a lovely first-time pass down the left wing for him to gallop on to and take in his stride. He dribbles with such control into the box and shoots low, clipping Mings' heel which left Martinez going the wrong way as the ball crept in at the left post.
Arsenal 3-0 Villa (Smith Rowe)
54 min Arsenal 2 Villa 0
Lokonga has his fourth or fifth shot after cutting in from the right on to his left. Smith Rowe was better placed but he kept moving across the 18-yard line until he saw a glimmer of daylight towards goal and yet scuffed it when he did finally unleash.
52 min Arsenal 2 Villa 0
Good block from White after Villa again make good progress up the left with Watkins and Targett. They feed it into Ings who cushions it with a lovely touch then shoots but White lunges towards him and stops it with his ankle.
50 min Arsenal 2 Villa 0
Arsenal break up the other end and Lokonga shoots from 20 yards, his shot striking a defender and travelling behind for a corner.
48 min Arsenal 2 Villa 0
Arsenal defend the corner without much drama but back come Villa through Watkins who feeds it into the box and Ings throws himself to the floor when Gabriel tickles his back. He wants a penalty. Craig Pawson is unconvinced.
46 min Arsenal 2 Villa 0
Watkins goes to the left, Bailey down the right and Ings through the middle on his own. Buendia finds Watkins with a neat round-the-corner pass down the left. Watkins takes it on and thumps a near-post shot that Ramsdale turns behind for a corner with a solid block.
Leon Bailey replaces Axel Tuanzebe.
Here's the penalty
Half-time Arsenal 2 Villa 0
Arsenal were infinitely superior to a clearly confused Villa who were disorganised and oddly reticent in that half. The penalty gave Arsenal they margin of lead their performance deserved but it was an odd one in that Lacazette just stuck his leg in front of Targett as a standing leg to plant rather than kick the ball.
45+4 min Arsenal 2 Villa 0
Martinez made his usual attempt to put the taker off and then dived full-length to his right to batter the shot away. But Aubameyang had followed it in and scruffily knocks the rebound into the grass and in.
Arsenal 2-0 Villa (Aubameyang) Martinez saved the first effort but Aubameyang hooks in the rebound.
Think that's fair. Targett doesn't.
VAR check for an Arsenal penalty
Lacazette goes down when Targett comes through him in the box. When play stops VAR tells Pawson to look at the screen. He definitely caught him as Lacazette got his foot to the ball first.
45+2 min Arsenal 1 Villa 0
Buendia and McGinn try the bluff from the free-kick with a stumbling first effort at approaching the ball but then bend it floatily and tepidly to the back post where Ramsdale gobbles it up.
45+1 min Arsenal 1 Villa 0
Thomas beats a clearly preoccupied Mings at the near post from the right-wing corner but this time heads over. Villa break from the goal-kick and earn a free-kick to the left of the box when Lokonga yanks a shirt.
45 min Arsenal 1 Villa 0
Lokonga easily gives McGinn the slip on halfway, drives towards the box and opens his right foot to roll it with his instep to Lacazette who is tightly marked. He still manages to wriggle to get a shot off and earn a corner when it's deflected behind.
43 min Arsenal 1 Villa 0
Even when they lose the ball Arsenal are committed to win it back within seconds, causing Konsa to remonstrate with his team-mates as he can barely catch his breath under the wave of attacks.
41 min Arsenal 1 Villa 0
Villa can't string three passes together. Still, while it remains only 1-0 there's plenty of scope for Dean Smith to switch to a system that makes them more defensively secure.
39 min Arsenal 1 Villa 0
Lokonga has a dig from the left with his right as he finds the space Tavares enjoyed a couple of minutes ago. At least Tavares hit the target, Lokinga's shot, by contrast, balloons into the crowd.
37 min Arsenal 1 Villa 0
Tavares is penalised for a high foot in a challenge which causes Cash, I think, to kick his studs painfully. Arsenal defend the free-kick easily and confidently.
35 min Arsenal 1 Villa 0
Tavares lets fly with his right when picked out by Lokonga's clever reverse pass but sends it straight down the goalie's throat.
33 min Arsenal 1 Villa 0
McGinn is booked after being made to look a mug by Lokonga who won it off him and spun away. McGinn kneed him in the back of his thigh as he administered a red-mist dead leg.
Villa are all over the place. Smith needs to reassess this system.
31 min Arsenal 1 Villa 0
Smith Rowe receives a pass from Thomas who had won the ball back to the left of the centre-circle in his own half, He sprints upfield and pings a pass to Tavares on the overlap. He draws Konsa towards him then squares the ball through the box to meet Saka's run. He shoots with his right, fairly tamely, and Martinez saves with his feet.
29 min Arsenal 1 Villa 0
Villa look badly stretched down the sides. They've gone to three at the back to accommodate Ings as a second striker but it's weakened the defence significantly. It's all right for Tunazebee in the middle but Konsa and Mings don't know whether to come wide or stay narrow when Balls are hit over or down the ides of Cash and Targett.
27 min Arsenal 1 Villa 0
McGinn has had a poor game by his fine standards. Mings catches Lacazette late but the referee waves play on. And then books him when the ball goes out of play.
25 min Arsenal 1 Villa 0
Near-post header from an excellent Smith Rowe corner from the left. Arsenal have beasted Villa down the flanks and the corner was earned when Tavares and Smith Rowe double-teamed Cash who couldn't cope and allowed Tavares into the box to fire a shot that was turned behind.
McGinn failed in his marking assignment on Thomas and forgot to jump, allowing the Arsenal midfielder a free header to glance it from one post to the other.
Arsenal 1 Aston Villa 0 (Thomas)
23 min Arsenal 0 Villa 0
22 min Arsenal 0 Villa 0
Thomas hits the post with an improvised high-kicking volley with the outside of his right foot after Saka spun the free-kick to the back-post with his left foot and the defensive header sent it back towards the pack of Arsenal runners.
20 min Arsenal 0 Villa 0
Mings looks deeply uncomfortable in a back three. Saka drags him out of position down the Arsenal right, teed up by Tomiyasu's chip over the top and Mings pulls him to the floor. Free-kick, wide on the right.
18 min Arsenal 0 Villa 0
Smith Rowe jitterbugs down the inside left and then works the ball across to Tomiyasu who takes a touch, looks up and thrashes a 25-yard effort over the bar.
16 min Arsenal 0 Villa 0
Arsenal are on the front foot by virtue of Lokonga and Thomas's ball-winning skills in midfield. They're instigating attack after attack by winning possession or with their direct approach, not going sideways with their passing but always forward.
14 min Arsenal 0 Villa 0
Lacazette wears Mings forearm on the side of the neck and chin as they went up for a header and he goes down clutching his head. The ref stops the game but after treatment he is passed fit to continue and Mings apologises with a clutch of his hand.
12 min Arsenal 0 Villa 0
Saka's corner is low and mishit but a failure to clear it at the near post causes some panic as Arsenal hack at it and Villa fly into blocks until Thomas's shot comes in from the 18-yard line and Ings throws himself in front of it.
10 min Arsenal 0 Villa 0
Villa corner after a long diagonal from the left was headed behind. Tavares wins the header from the corner and Ramsdale catches it. Arsenal break quickly, first up the right before switching it to Tavares overlapping like a Trojan down the left. he whips over a deep cross that Villa scramble behind.
8 min Arsenal 0 Villa 0
Arsenal have the ball in the Villa net but Lacazette is penalised for a foul on Konsa in the build-up that was a bit soft to say the least.
6 min Arsenal 0 Villa 0
Dainty footwork from Smith Rowe works some space for Tavares to run into the box and shoot from 12 yards. Again the shot is flayed over the bar.
4 min Arsenal 0 Villa 0
Arsenal build up the right with a neat triangle between Tomiyasu, Thomas and Saka. Thomas slips the ball down the side of Mings who doesn't come out quickly enough. Saka gets there and sends a big inswinger with his left to the back post, beyond it actually. Aubameyang meets it with a bicycle kick that flies across the face of goal back to Saka who blazes a left-foot shot over the bar.
2 min Arsenal 0 Villa 0
Ramsdale comes to the edge of the box but fearing that the ball hasn't got enough weight on it to reach the keeper, Gabriel intercedes between the keeper and Watkins and blocks his run. Watkins shoves him over and is booked. The crowd wanted red but it wasn't that bad.
1 min Arsenal 0 Villa 0
Asraenal kick off, moving the ball up the right but lose it quickly, Villa come back up that flank, Targett hits a hopeful ball into the box for Watkins to chase.
The teams are out
The Emirates is pleasingly loud. Arsenal in their home strip, natch. Villa are in navy with white trim.
Nuno Tavares makes his first PL start tonight
The 21-year-old Portugal U-21 left-back made only 25 appearances for Benfica over two seasons but it was enough to persuade Arsenal to part with £8 million to sign him in the summer. He never really managed to dislodge Alex Grimaldo in Lisbon. Will he fare better on the Holloway Road?
One presumes Aubameyang will be on the left of a trident behind Lacazette.
As for Villa, is it 3-4-1-2 with Buendia as a 10? That's what it looks like.
And now for those of you watching in black and white
Arsenal Ramsdale; Tomiyasu, White, Gabriel, Tavares; Thomas, Sambi Lokonga; Saka, Smith-Rowe, Aubameyang; Lacazette.
Substitutes Leno, Odegaard, Maitland-Niles, Holding, Cedric, Pepe, Elneny, Kolasinac, Martinelli.
Aston Villa Martinez; Konsa, Tuanzebe, Mings; Cash, McGinn, Douglas Luiz, Targett; Buendia; Ings, Watkins.
Substitutes Steer, Sanson, Young, Nakamba, El Ghazi, Hause, Bailey, Archer, Jacob Ramsey.
Referee Craig Pawson (South Yorkshire)
— Aston Villa (@AVFCOfficial) October 22, 2021
Lacazette starts for Arsenal
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) October 22, 2021
And welcome to coverage of 13th-placed Aston Villa's visit to the Emirates to play 12th-placed Arsenal. The hosts might have needed Alexandre Lacazette's Fergie-time equaliser to extend their unbeaten run to five matches but they have been much improved since Mikel Arteta finally assembled his ideal back five - Ramsdale, Tomiyasu, White, Gabriel and Tierney - and has been able to pick them consistently while Villa have been more vulnerable since their switch to a back three, losing three of their five match playing with wing-backs and a third centre-half.
This fixture over the recent past has traditionally been an Olivier Giroud-inspired cakewalk for Arsenal - 4-0 in the last game of the 2015-16 season when they finished second to Leicester and Villa went down, 5-0 the year before and 4-0 in the Cup final, 3-2 on Villa's return to the top flight in 2019-20 - but they were hammered 3-0 last season when Bukayo Saka scored an own goal and Ollie Watkins grabbed two in three second-half minutes.
Dean Smith, the Villa manager, says his team's reverse from 2-0 up to 3-2 down in the last 10 minutes against Wolves last week was not a result of poor form but the injustice of random cruelty. "We can also take some heart from what we've done in the last month in our last four or five games," he said. "They're the ones that I have to judge us by in terms of our performances."
"It wasn't a collapse. We had to defend a couple of soft free-kicks and corners and we won the first contact on most," Smith added. "Sometimes there's a randomness in football that can happen. After the second goal, we were the team that looked likely to score the winner."
Matty Cash has recovered from a dead leg sustained against Wolverhampton while Leon Bailey, out for six weeks, and Bertrand Traore, missing since the international break, are both in the squad, as is Keinan Davies. Arsenal will give Bukayo Saka every opportunity to prove his fitness after hurting his shin/calf last week and their only long-term absentee is Granit Xhaka who will be out until the new year with knee-knack.